Dr Frankenstein. By Selma Dimitrijevic. Directed by Jordan Best. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. Until April 21. canberrarep.org.au or 62571950.
Playwright Selma Dimitrijevic's intention in writing Dr Frankenstein, in which her central character is the female version of Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein, is clearly noted in Canberra Repertory's program. "The feeling I wanted to create was the same one I had when I read the book – I was terrified."
Director Jordan Best's atmospherically orchestrated direction held no terror for me. Instead, I was overwhelmed by a curious fascination with the play's moral dilemma. Victoria Frankenstein (Jenna Roberts) is consumed by the passionate curiosity of the driven scientist and we are left to question the means to her end, to stop time between life and death and achieve immortality.
By making Frankenstein a woman, confronting the strict conventions and expectations of her era, Dimitrijevic challenges the stereotype of the punctilious Victorian father (Saban Lloyd Berrell), the conforming sister, Elizabeth (Georgina Horsburgh) and Henry (Cole Hilder), a typical and compliant young Victorian gentleman.
The characters stand at the cusp of a new age, but it is Dimitrijevic's central female character who holds the promise of Percy Bysshe Shelley's sighs for a new dawn. However, in her visionary attempt to unleash the Holy Grail of eternal life, Frankenstein lifts the lid on a Pandora's box of consequences. Nature and science appear locked in moral combat. Frankenstein denies God and Faith while the hapless Justine (Emily Pogson) goes to her death because of her honest belief in the Devil.
Frankenstein's creature, played with commanding power and painful pathos by Michael Sparks, made even more awesome by Sian Phillips's excellent make-up, hurls his ironic accusations of hypocrisy at the audience in a plea for compassion and understanding.
It is to the credit of Canberra Rep and the cast and creatives of Dr Frankenstein that this production is much more than a fearful Gothic thriller, although there is homage to the tradition of frightening ghost stories and tales of the walking dead.
Chris Zuber's set design creates an appropriate representation of the period and Anna Senior's authentic costumes are perfect for the piece. Best has thought of everything to lure her audience into the period and the atmosphere of this evocative, provocative, intellectually stimulating and emotionally arousing moral parable.
Central to the audience's complete engagement with the production is the relationship between Victoria and her creature. In Roberts and Sparks' performances we are witness to two of Canberra's finest actors. There is excellent support from the other performers and I find mind and heart drawn into a world where past and present merge to raise the curtain on moral and ethical questions of the future.
Canberra Repertory has staged a thoroughly enjoyable reimagining of the Mary Shelley classic. More than that, it observes the ideal in all good art, to enlighten and to entertain. Highly recommended.